Mothers' Level of Attachment to the Labor Market Following the Birth of a Second Child

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Title of Dissertation: MOTHERS’ LEVEL OF ATTACHMENT TO THE LABOR MARKET FOLLOWING THE BIRTH OF A SECOND CHILD Pia Kristiina Peltola, Doctor of Philosophy, 2004 Dissertation directed by: Professor Joan Kahn Department of Sociology

Increased employment of mothers with infants has prompted an avalanche of studies about how mothers balance paid work and family.  Most of that research has focused on how the birth of the first child impacts mothers’ employment.  Less is known about what happens after the birth of a second child.  Combining the life course perspective with the classic labor supply theory and employing the 1979-1998 NLSY data, this study examines how mothers balance paid work and family when they have two children.  Some comparisons are made between the first and a second birth.

The first comparison, the survival distribution of mothers’ return to market work, finds no significant difference in the rate at which mothers return to employment after the first and a second birth.  The results of Cox hazard models show some similarities and some differences in the determinants for the timing of return to paid work after the two births.  They also highlight the importance of considering the impact of past life experiences on current decisions.  Results of the competing risk models show that some predictors for full time and part time returns differ. 

This study also examines what mothers’ employment is like after returning to paid work by examining mothers’ employment hours during the preschool years of the second child.  Very different employment patterns are observed between those who began working full time and those who started part time.  The changes in employment hours during this period would be missed without longitudinal data.  The large number of mothers dropping out of the labor force over the five-year period suggests that reports focusing on the return to market work only overestimate mothers’ economic activity.  Fluctuations in the employment hours underline the dynamic nature of the balancing act: the equilibrium keeps shifting as children grow older, and mothers keep readjusting and chasing the optimal balance between care work and market work.